National Dalit Watch-Monitoring Disaster Response and Preparedness for Inclusion and Equity
The National Dalit Watch (NDW) is an effort spearheaded by the National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights (www.ncdhr.org.in). NCDHR learned of rampant caste discrimination during the Indian Ocean Tsunami in Tamil Nadu (2004) and made visits to the affected regions, following which a comprehensive study was conducted by *International Dalit Solidarity Network of Netherlands. Subsequent to the field visit a National Public Hearing was jointly organized by together with Human Rights Forum for Dalit Liberation (HRFDL) and Dalit Mannurimai Kootamaippu (DMK), on Discrimination against Dalits in Tsunami Relief and Rehabilitation, at Nungampakkam, Chennai, in August 2005. More than 1000 Dalit victims from the whole of Tamil Nadu participated in the Public Hearing. NGOs and other Dalit organizations working in the coasts of Tamil Nadu also took part extensively.
Eventually, NCDHR took up many advocacy interventions together with HRFDL viz. appealing to the governmental and non governmental bodies, reporting the situation and submitting memoranda to high officials, organizing meetings, workshops, seminars and demonstrations to ensure that the Tsunami-affected Dalits had an equal opportunity to rebuild their lives and communities. The National Public Hearing was one of the major social action programmes to ensure justice to Tsunami hit Dalit survivors.
The inspiration and motivation to initiate the NDW has undoubtedly emerged from the learning and achievements of Dalit Watch – Bihar (DW-B). Initially with Dalit Samanway, a flash survey was done in 1970 villages in 123 blocks in 11 districts which confirmed the discrimination. A platform was formed with organizations and networks - Bchpan Bachao Andolan, Baarh Sukhad Mukti Andolan, Dalit Samanway, Lokshakti Sangathan, and Nari Gunjan from Bihar, spearheaded and supported by NCDHR and PRAXIS (Patna). DW-B monitored the status of inclusion of Dalit communities in relief and rehabilitation, and came out with a report which described the serious situation of the Dalits in all the flood affected districts, and exposed exclusion and discrimination all along in 2007*. This was explored systematically and scientifically through a relief audit that scanned 205 relief camps in five districts as well as a study on community managed disaster risk reduction in September 2008*. These reports were perhaps the first of their kind and served as tools of advocacy. The NDW works collaboratively with organizations striving for the protection of human rights, and those particularly working for Dalit human rights during disaster situations.
NDW over the past two years has instituted tools and methods to identify, expose and document this form of discrimination. This has enabled many Dalit rights organizations, local activists and the community leadership to monitor exclusion effectively during disasters. NDW has initiated the process of advocacy and mobilization to pressurize the state to take corrective steps, institute a policy environment that recognizes and counters such discrimination and defines entitlement of survivors in manner that makes the state accountable.
NDW with its constituent Dalit rights organizations, at present, has its interventions in the flood belt of Bihar, Karnataka, Assam and Andhra Pradesh.
THE ROAD AHEAD
It is highly imperative to have state accountability during disasters; accountability that takes cognizance of basic structural and causative reasons for exclusion and discrimination during disasters. Only this recognition can lead to concerted and relevant action to counter this aspect of denial of the basic rights of Dalit citizens. It is important for the state and its agencies and the international agencies to consciously include this dimension in their programme planning, implementation and monitoring. Only then can there be a deliberate and planned move towards inclusion. NDW will examine the deficiencies in the existing policy and disaster response / preparedness regime to make an impact. Focused endeavours are on for achieving equitable policies through policy advocacy at all levels.
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